With great show and hope, the capital city got some open air gyms. They were installed at strategic locations. The intention was good. It was to encourage the capital’s residents embrace a healthy lifestyle. And this was also replicated in other dzongkhags.

It was put to good use and then abused to a state that now most are in a sad state of repair. After parts started coming off, the gyms became a playground with children turning them into swings and other play things. Judging by the health of the equipment, we are not very healthy, physically or morally.

After the initial euphoria, we have neglected the public facility. Today some have become risky for children coming to play with the broken equipment. The state of the gyms, constructed with a USD 100,000 aid from the World Health Organisation, show how we manage public property. 

Managing public property this way, including public space, stems from our lack of sense of taking ownership or civic sense. Dustbins are often vandalised and garbage shoved down the drain mindlessly.

The thromde, which is given the responsibility to manage the facility, cannot look after the facilities alone. Like one health official said, people need to cooperate. It is a public property and the public should take care of it. Property destruction is a big financial drain on the already cash-strapped thromde. 

There is no simple way to stop such acts of vandalism. Recognising that it’s a community responsibility is the key.  

There are not many public spaces or facilities and the few we have should be taken care of. An ideal solution would be giving responsibilities to communities. But in urbanised Thimphu we are fast-losing the sense of community. Perhaps the thromde, through its council, should play a role in creating the community. There were plans to build community halls in the extended city where people can gather, discuss issues and enhance community participation in their localities. This would bring the community together and give the thromde  extra eyes, ears and hands. Simple structures like community halls could invoke the community feeling of belonging together and taking ownership.

There will be demand for public space and facilities as concrete structures take up all the free private spaces. A start has been made with some children’s parks and open air gyms. How successful it will be to fulfil the intention will depend on how we take care of them. Otherwise, like Lyonchhen often says, it would be like not cleaning our face when washing our head.